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Early Termination & Modification of Criminal Probation: Penal Code 1203.3

A criminal defendant, who has been sentenced to felony or misdemeanor probation after a criminal conviction, may sometimes be released from that probation sentence before the date probation was schedule to expire (PC 1203.3). In addition, sometimes a defendant may have her criminal probation terms modified to augment or diminish the extent of her probation. These processes are usually referred to as early termination of probation and modification of probation, respectively.

First: A Quick Review of Criminal Probation

A criminal probation sentence is a period of supervision, in lieu of a jail or prison sentence, which is sometimes ordered after a criminal conviction. Criminal probation sentences carry terms or condition of probation. These terms of probation must be obeyed in order for the defendant to remain on probation. If the defendant fails to obey a term of probation then she may be in violation of her terms of probation. A violation of criminal probation terms can lead to jail and other penalties (See Probation Violation Defense).

The terms of probation are related to the defendant’s crime. For example, typical probation terms in a prostitution case usually include, pay fines, submit to an HIV (AIDS) test, complete an HIV (AIDS) education class, stay-away from the location of the offense, complete ten days of house arrest or work release, and commit no further crime while on probation. On the other hand, a probation sentence for felony convictions usually include dozens of probation terms. As stated, misdemeanor probation sentences tend to have less conditions of probation and tend to be much shorter in duration than felony probation sentences (i.e. 1-3 years for misdemeanor probation; 3-5 years, or more, for felony probation).

Most non-serious and non-violent crimes are eligible for a probation sentence in California; however, whether a defendant is granted a probation sentence after a criminal conviction depends on many factors, including the circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and the terms of a negotiated plea bargain, if any.

Criminal probation is classified as either misdemeanor probation, or felony probation. Misdemeanor probation is monitored by the court and is sometimes referred to as informal, summary, or court probation. Felony probation is monitored and supervised by a probation officer and is usually referred to as formal probation.

Early Termination of Probation (PC 1203.3)

The defendant must meet certain requirements in order to be considered for early termination of probation. According to California penal code section 1203.3, the court has the authority to grant an early termination of probation request in both misdemeanor and felony cases. The court may grant a defendant’s request for early termination of probation after the defendant has fulfilled all of the condition of her probation (i.e. pay fines, restitution, remain free of arrests, attend classes, etc.), and after the defendant has properly given notice of her request to all interested parties (i.e. probation department in felony cases, district attorney, etc.).

Note: The judge may simultaneously grant an early termination of probation request, reduce a felony to a misdemeanor (for wobbler crimes), and expunge the defendant’s criminal record (See Expungement). Also, the court may grant early termination of probation petitions even if the defendant has not fulfilled every condition of probation; however, in practice, the court rarely grants a PC 1203.3 petitions if the defendant has not fulfilled every condition of her probation.

Good Conduct & Interest of Justice Required

The defendant must usually show good conduct and reform while on probation in order for the defendant’s request for early termination of probation to be considered. Good conduct and reform means that the defendant has obeyed the conditions of her probation and the court is satisfied that the defendant has reformed herself.

Reform generally means: gained insight into the causes of her criminal activity, shown remorse, and is not likely to repeat the offense. The defendant must also demonstrate to the court that an early termination of probation is in the interest of justice as the request is related to the defendant.

The interest of justice is usually shown when the defendant’s probation experiencing hardship because or her probation sentence or is otherwise preventing the defendant from any of the following: obtaining gainful employment or promotion, obtaining education loans or education access, obtaining access to health or insurance benefits, and necessary travel.

Of course, every early termination of probation request is accompanied by different facts; therefore, whether or not the court finds good conduct or a judicial interest in granting a PC 1203.3 motion is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Important: No adjustment of a probation order can be based on the same facts as the original order granting the probation… (PC 1203.3 Abbrev.). Essentially, this means the defendant cannot proffer argument(s) in her PC 1203.3 request if she previously proffered the same argument(s) in her underlying criminal case in support of a probation sentence (in lieu of a jail or prison sentence). For example, if a mother pleads for a probation sentence after a DUI conviction, and the basis of her argument for a probation sentence is that she cannot care for her children if she is sentenced to jail (as opposed to being placed on probation), then the mother cannot use the argument that she has children for whom to care as part of her early termination of probation request.

Modification of Probation Terms

Penal code 1203.3 gives the court the authority to modify a probation term. As discussed, this modification authority can include an early termination of probation, which would release the defendant from further probation requirements; however, in some cases, the court is more amenable to modify the probation terms as opposed to terminate them completely. For example, a defendant, who is serving a work release sentence as a term of probation, could ask the court to modify this term of probation to allow the defendant to serve the balance of her work release sentence on house arrest.

Reinstatement of Probation Terms

Sometimes, the court will use its authority under PC 1203.3 to modify a defendant’s probation sentence when the defendant requires more time to complete a probation term, such as a probation term that requires the defendant to complete DUI classes within a certain amount of time.

Note: The court shall not modify the dollar amount of the restitution obligations due to the good conduct and reform of the defendant, absent compelling and extraordinary reasons… (PC 1203.3 Abbrev & Italics Added.). Essentially, this means that the court has discretion to modify a defendant’s probation term that helps the defendant; however, a request to modify a probation term that harms another person, such as reducing defendant’s restitution payments to victims who suffered monetary loss related to defendant’s criminal conduct, will not be granted without compelling and extraordinary justification.

When to Apply for PC 1203.3 Relief

PC 1203.3 states that the court may grant a modification of probation term(s), including the termination of that probation, at any time. Theoretically, this means the judge could modify or terminate the defendant’s probation upon request on the very first day of the defendant’s probation; however, in practice, the court will not terminate a defendant’s probation early unless the defendant has served at least fifty percent (50%) of her probation sentence, and only if the defendant has successfully completed all other probation terms (i.e. pay fines, attend DUI classes or Domestic Violence Classes [if required], no arrests, etc.).

Benefits of Early Termination of Probation

Every defendant has his or her own reasons for why he or she seeks early termination of probation. With that said, the most common reasons a person seeks early termination of probation include: to avoid the risk of violating probation, to gain greater employment opportunity (after PC 1203.3 & expungement), to open travel opportunities that were restricted while on probation, to be entitled to state that he or she has not been convicted of a crime (after PC 1203.3 & expungement), to restore firearm rights (after PC 1203.3 and 17(b) Motion in wobbler crimes), and more.

PC 1203.3 Process

To terminate a misdemeanor or felony probation early is not an easy task. It is not the paperwork or the process that is terribly difficult; rather, the difficulty in successful PC 1203.3 motions is convincing the judge to grant the defendant’s PC 1203.3 application.

Consider this: the vast majority of probation sentences are the result of a negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney. This fact leads the judge in most PC 1203.3 hearings to inquire as to why the defendant cannot keep the very agreement for which she bargained. After all, the district attorney has presumably kept her part of the bargain by not prosecuting the case beyond the terms of the plea bargain.

This is precisely why the defendant should incorporate the services of a criminal defense lawyer familiar with PC 1203.3 motions. A criminal defense lawyer will prepare all the paperwork, properly serve and file the paperwork, and most importantly, know the successful arguments to proffer on behalf of the defendant in order to give the defendant the best chance of success on the PC 1203.3 petition.

Note: The request for early termination of probation process usually takes about three months from start to finish. This estimated time frame can take longer in more complex cases. Also, in criminal cases where a criminal protective order (CPO) has been served on the defendant, such as in domestic battery or child abuse cases, or in cases of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), there are special requirements that the defendant must meet before the court may terminate probation ahead of schedule (PC 1203.3 Abbrev.).

PC 1203.3 Limitations

Successful PC 1203.3 motions to terminate probation early do not relieve the defendant from all collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. For example, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) penalties that stem from the same criminal conduct that lead to the defendant’s probation sentence will not, by itself, restore the defendant’s driving privileges.

For more information on early termination of probation, modification of probation terms, or PC 1203.3 & 1203.4 (Expungement), contact our criminal defense lawyers at your convenience. Our law firm has successfully handled hundreds of post-conviction criminal motions, including PC 1203.3 & 1203.4 motions. We also defend against misdemeanor and felony allegation of probation violation. There is no charge to talk to our successful and experience team of criminal defense lawyers. Call today!


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Early Termination & Modification of Criminal Probation: Penal Code 1203.3


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